One of the remarkable features of our age is the incredible degree of consensus among the institutions of power. Far from checks and balances or a proliferation of “little platoons,” the Left has forged a phalanx. While it seems that our country currently is undergoing a lot of conflict, what is taking place is largely a mopping-up operation.
Many Republicans, all Democrats, government agencies, corporations, universities, and the media all agree with the Left-liberal consensus on a wide variety of subjects. They broadly endorse the culturally leftist, pro-corporate, and interventionist foreign policy expressed during the Obama Administration’s second term.
Donald Trump was an unexpected monkey wrench in their plans. He is an outsider expressing neither the palatable views of the pro-business GOP, nor the globalist views of the neoliberal establishment. Thus, the government that Trump ostensibly runs resists him actively or passively at every turn. In this, it is joined by big business, the media, and pretty much every other established institution.
They all believe in the same myths: that cops are racist, that America is evil, that masks are magic, that the traditional family is oppressive, that nationalism is outmoded, and that America only began to be worth anything starting in the 1960s when the old America began to become undone.
The 1960s counterculture is now just the culture. The rebels took over the institutions. What looks like “resistance” in the streets is just the activity of shock troops defending the status quo. There is little daylight between the black-clad, blue-haired Antifa terrorists, and the well-educated and wealthy leaders of the Google HR department.
Unlike the band, they rage for the machine.
The Disorganized Right
While many people are unhappy with this state of affairs, the Right lacks organization, funding, and philosophical clarity. Middle America went from being in the saddle to being a hated, declining cohort, broken by a huge demographic wave and an economy largely indifferent to their strenuous efforts to find security.
For many years, conservative energy has been channeled into a Republican Party that conducted, at best, a fighting retreat. In the meantime, the private sector, institutions of culture like universities and public schools, the courts, social media, and now financial institutions have become more uniformly hostile to middle America and its interests.
One of the shocking things the Left has managed to accomplish in this hyperpartisan age is to enlist the radicals to support an interventionist, neoliberal foreign policy. The far Left that emerged in the 1960s was defined by its opposition to what it called “U.S. imperialism.” George W. Bush faced constant protests about the war in Iraq. This movement turned out to be short-lived and nakedly partisan. It mostly fell apart during the Obama years.
With the Russian collusion mythology, elements within the FBI and the CIA—presumably at the heart of the establishment—were able to get every left-wing activist to sound like the second coming of Joe McCarthy, worried about Russians hiding underneath their bed.
Similarly, the pro-free speech views of most Americans have been eclipsed by the introduction of foreign concepts like “hate speech.” It turns out the support for free-speech was abandoned once the radicals gained control of big business, social media, and the instruments of state.
Censoring and harrying one’s opponents through doxxing is now a celebrated pastime of the far Left. It is done without an ounce of regret or charity. That so many Americans are so economically vulnerable to having their private views exposed never seems to bother a group ostensibly concerned about inequality and economic insecurity.
There is a lesson in all of this for those on the Right.
Rules for (Right-Wing) Radicals
First, the old alliances may no longer be useful. Politics, after all, is about assembling a coalition. Parties and movements are supposed to unite on objects of common interest. The front lines are always changing. No one is supporting the Nicaraguan Contras or worried about bimetallism anymore. As circumstances change, there has been increasing drift between the institutions of the Right—the Republican Party, think tanks, and the politicians—and their voters.
When conservatives are defending corporate America, they’re not defending people making cars in Michigan or building homes in Atlanta. They’re defending behemoth monopolies that create chokepoints for information, which increasingly is manipulated for economic gain and partisan advantage.
A more worker-focused conservatism that ditches the libertarian dogma of the Reagan and Gingrich years would be worthwhile. This is the secret to the Trump victory; he forged a coalition based on where the voters already are.
The Right needs to figure out who its friends are, play to win, and devote its energies to community-wide organizing that goes beyond electoral politics.
The economically Right, culturally Left consensus of Conservatism, Inc. represents a vanishingly small group of real voters. The patriotic middle class, the working poor, small business owners, churchgoers, farmers, gun owners, and hated denizens of “flyover country” are the core of any actual right-wing renaissance.
Second, the concern for procedural principles and indifference to outcomes has had the results one might expect: principled defeat.
You could always count on conservatives making martyrs of themselves and scoring a goal for “high principle.” But a unilateral commitment to principle is like adhering to the law of war against enemies who do not: it only weakens one’s team.
The law of war, like principles of political restraint, only works if there is reciprocal restraint by the other side. The only real enforcement mechanism is retaliation, which either leads to renewed, bilateral observance of the same set of rules or new parity in a rougher game. Winning the game is not a secondary matter, as the last five decades attest. Principle without power is merely a list of words on paper.
Third, an excessive concern for electoral politics has resulted in a neglect of culture.
Whether Trump wins or loses, things probably won’t change much. Most of life occurs outside the political realm, and much of politics is not controlled by elections. To the extent middle America faces political obstacles, the laws and regulators are working in concert with employers, schools, and other gatekeepers. Even if the merely political harassment were removed, the hive-like operation of the rest of the progressive instruments of power would remain.
Before and after Trump, there are still things you can’t say. Families are still going to be weakened by debt, divorce laws, and a constant drumbeat of hedonistic propaganda. Your local mall will still be on the brink of becoming a “no go” zone because of crime. Privacy is everywhere compromised. Draconian local authorities have converted a manageable public health problem into outright murder of the private-sector economy.
In short, the putative champion of the nationalist right, Donald Trump, has only limited power. His efforts to do good frequently have been parried by his enemies within the government. Even if he were completely effective, he only has, at most, one more term. Waiting in the wings are the courts, the Congress, new Americans, and the brainwashed graduates of our schools. These all stand in solidarity with billionaire donors and trillion-dollar corporations to wreck what is left of traditional America.
Finally, the right needs to adjust its strategy and efforts based on the stakes. Many seem to believe these various phenomena are just a temporary disruption that will be over soon. For them, we will eventually return to a harmonious, bipartisan system. The chaos afoot won’t stop because it’s a hydra-headed and leaderless revolution. What began as a narrowly focused anti-Vietnam movement is now a thorough-going anti-American crusade.
The recent riots, in addition to galvanizing what’s left of middle America, are telling insofar as those in power, for so long, were totally unperturbed by them. They were recast as “mostly peaceful” protests and a shining example of righteous activism.
The forces of Black Lives Matter and Antifa were the “bad cop” to corporate America’s “good cop.” They demanded genuflection to the same gods. Like the Chinese Cultural Revolution’s Red Guard or the “street toughs” used in other totalitarian regimes, these unofficial paramilitaries were simply providing an additional argument in favor of changes that the elite already wanted.
“We have to give them something or they’ll do even worse” is the basic message. Thus, billionaires, the FBI, U.S. senators, and CNN find themselves on the same side as ex-convict agitators and other dropouts.
Physical and economic insecurity is not a bug but a feature of the new order; it makes everyone more dependent on conforming to the system, Soviet-style. Instead of true wealth and independence, individual life increasingly is like an app or an ebook: virtual, rented, able to be revoked if fashions change or one becomes persona non grata.
Thus, the Right must work locally to create organizations devoted to economic and physical security to deal with the wide-ranging threats deployed against normal life. This will have to proceed very carefully and thoughtfully to avoid nihilist agitators. It should likely capitalize on existing structures: churches, neighborhoods, and circles of family and friends.
The Bottom Line
In short, the Right needs to figure out who its friends are, play to win, and devote its energies to community-wide organizing that goes beyond electoral politics. It must take stock of the current situation, including the ubiquitous violence and threatened violence by those on the Left. An effective right-wing politics must include tools for mutual support, education, and security. It should look less like yesterday’s Republican Party and more like Poland’s 1980s Solidarity movement, as the threat we face bears a strong resemblance.
This is the playbook that brought the Left to power, and it is also the playbook that brought Eastern European dissidents to power. This is the only way we will be able to weather the next, high-conflict phase of the social, economic, and political revolution wrought by the progressive Left.